Syracuse University Magazine

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Cynthia Morrow

Committed to Community Health

A single framed photograph graces Dr. Cynthia Morrow’s tidy office in the Center for Policy Research in Eggers Hall. The picture is of her father, international health pioneer Richard Morrow. Although he passed away two years ago, his example continues to inspire Morrow, a professor of practice in the Maxwell School Department of Public Administration and International Affairs and the former commissioner of health for the Onondaga County Health Department. She is also the inaugural Lerner Chair at the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion. “I was fortunate to be born to parents who spent their lives dedicated to improving the health of others,” says Morrow, whose mother, Helga, is a nurse practitioner who established nursing programs in several developing countries. “I grew up in Africa and Europe and the U.S., and was exposed to wonderful cultures and to family values that put education and health at the forefront. I could see my parents’ passion for their work translate into tremendous benefit to the communities in which they worked. It was a very easy path for me to follow.”

One important milestone along the way was her decision to spend time in a remote village in Gambia before entering medical school. “While I was there, I was saddened by people’s acceptance of what we would consider premature mortality,” says Morrow, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “That was a determining period for me, and it pushed me to follow in my father’s footsteps—not because I was his daughter, but because it was what I, as an individual, needed to do. I became committed not only to medicine, but to public health.”

While in medical school, Morrow met her husband, a military doctor whose assignments took the couple and their growing family to South Carolina, Guam, and Florida. “In all those places, because of the short nature of our time there, I was able to experience different parts of the medical system, including clinical work, long-term care, and private practice,” she says. After her husband accepted a position at Upstate Medical University, she began working at the Onondaga County Health Department and continued there for 14 years, the last nine of which were in the position of commissioner of health, before coming to SU in 2014.

As Lerner Chair, Morrow upholds the Lerner Center’s mission to improve community health through such collaborative efforts as Healthy Mondays and its partnership with Syracuse’s Near Westside neighborhood. She’s especially proud of the part the center played in the University’s establishment as a tobacco- and smoke-free campus—a significant effort in promoting well-being. “It’s a wonderful environment here, and I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people doing really good, important work,” she says.  

She also enjoys teaching two graduate-level courses at Maxwell that allow her to share her experiences as the county health commissioner and “hopefully inspire others” to improve health in their communities. “At the end of the day, if we’re not healthy, we can’t achieve our full potential,” says Morrow, who is also a faculty member at Upstate and serves on several community boards. “Of course I am tremendously biased, but I believe that health is the cornerstone on which we build all our success.”    —Amy Speach